Does the cost of produce at the grocery store give you sticker shock? One way to reach the goal of eating healthier while minimizing the impact on your wallet is to grow your own! Lettuce is probably the most commonly used vegetable and its price can fluctuate depending on the time of year and weather conditions around the country. Luckily, it is also one of the easiest vegetables to grow and it doesn’t take up too much space on your countertop or in your garden either.
There are many varieties of lettuce but they generally can be grouped into four categories:
- Iceberg Lettuce - Possibly the most well-known type of lettuce; its leaves form a tight ball that resembles a head and plants should be spaced 10 to 12 inches apart.
- Bibb/Butter Head Lettuce - This type of lettuce also forms heads but they are looser and smaller in size. Plants should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart and this is the most heat tolerant type of lettuce.
- Romaine Lettuce - This is the most nutritious variety of lettuce and tolerates the most shade. It grows in an upright fashion with long, loose leaves and plants should be spaced 6 to 8 inches apart.
- Leaf/Loose Leaf Lettuce - These varieties form no heads and generally grow the fastest. Plants should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart and generally can be harvested within 45 to 50 days of germination.
Lettuce is a cool weather vegetable that grows well in USDA zones 4 through 9. It prefers full sun conditions but will also tolerate light shade and if you live in a warmer garden zone some shade will be beneficial as too much heat will damage the leaves and adversely impact its flavor. You can grow lettuce from seed or purchase seedlings. When planting lettuce in the spring you can sow the seed about 1 to 2 weeks before your last frost date and to ensure a continuous crop you can continue to plant more seed every 2 weeks for the next 4 to 6 weeks. It is also possible to plant lettuce in late summer but if the soil is too warm the seed won’t sprout. You’ll want to keep the plants shaded, mulched and well-watered until the heat of summer abates.
Lettuce prefers rich soil which drains well and if you are growing your lettuce from seed you will need to thin out the seedlings so that you leave the proper amount of space between the plants. Lettuce has a very shallow root structure so you want to be careful when you do this. Sometimes it is easier to just cut the seedlings at ground level with a scissor than trying to pull them out of the ground.
While lettuce tastes good to us it also is a favorite of pests that range from slugs to rabbits. If slugs are a problem in your area you can leave beer in a shallow container such as a clean cat food tin or small yogurt container in the vicinity of your lettuce. The beer will attract the slugs and they will drown in it. At least they will go away happy! Rabbits, on the other hand, can be a little more challenging to combat. They may be cute but they sure are destructive! There are repellents on the market that are available but I don’t recommend you use them around plants that you are going to consume. It is better to provide the plant with some physical protection such as a chicken wire cage. If you have suggestions on how you keep rabbits from eating your lettuce please share them on our Facebook page!